Monday Morning Poem: Alcestis on the Poetry Circuit.

August 31st, 2009

(In Memoriam Marina Tsvetayeva, Anna Wickham, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare’s sister, etc., etc.)

The best slave
does not need to be beaten.
She beats herself.

Not with a leather whip,
or with stick or twigs,
not with a blackjack
or a billyclub,
but with the fine whip
of her own tongue
& the subtle beating
of her mind
against her mind.

For who can hate her half so well
as she hates herself?
& who can match the finesse
of her self-abuse?

Years of training
are required for this.
Twenty years
of subtle self-indulgence,
until the subject
thinks herself a queen
& yet a beggar
both at the same time.
She must doubt herself
in everything but love.

She must choose passionately
& badly.
She must feel lost as a dog
without her master.
She must refer all moral questions
to her mirror.
She must fall in love with a cossack
or a poet.

She must never go out of the house
unless veiled in paint.
She must wear tight shoes
so she always remembers her bondage.
She must never forget
she is rooted in the ground.

Though she is quick to learn
& admittedly clever,
her natural doubt of herself
should make her so weak
that she dabbles brilliantly
in half a dozen talents
& thus embellishes
but does not change
our life.

If shes an artist
& comes close to genius,
the very fact of her gift
should cause her such pain
that she will take her own life
rather than best us.

& after she dies, we will cry
& make her a saint.

Erica Jong


The Once and Future Soapbox.

August 28th, 2009

I am so completely furious over all the healthcare fear-mongering right now that I am cross-eyed and can’t get work done.

I’m an artist and, in general, I try to keep this blog as rant-free as possible, or to at least limit the rants to one or two a year; my talents lie in conveying individual stories in an entirely fictional context, through words and images.  The reason that you’re here reading this is that you think I’m entertaining or witty or can draw a pretty picture or describe an aesthetic or spiritual experience in a way that touches you.

I very much hope that my audience includes people who broadly disagree with me on many political points; I want to make stories that are compelling to people regardless of whether or not they agree with me about contemporary fiscal policy. We are all walking around with what amounts to the same equipment, and while I don’t believe that accessibility is a necessary mark of Good Art, it’s among my personal values as an artist.

If at some point I managed to accidentally influence your opinion on what obligations we have to our fellow human beings, well then, that’s just extra credit.  If I talk you into something you end up regretting, please accept my apologies.  I am not a professional Haver of Significant Opinions.

But I also like to think that I am, in my very particular way, a fierce and consistent American patriot.  A copy of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence sits on my shelf of sacred texts, alongside my scholastic New Revised Bible, the poems of Dylan Thomas and Rainer Maria Rilke, the Fagles translation of the Odyssey, and letters to and from my loved ones. I think this country is remarkable and has accomplished things unprecedented in human history, and that we often take the greatest of those accomplishments for granted.

At the same time: we are not perfect.  We have lots of room to improve.  Other countries have good ideas, one that we can learn from.  One of America’s greatest assets is our cultural youth.  Our values are not set in stone.  We came into being on the premise that Things Can And Should Change, and that the great, centuries-old cogs and wheels of European civilization turned at an unacceptably slow pace, unable to enact their own best ideas.

We as a nation acted on those ideas.  We built on them.  And it turned out, on the whole, rather well.

But the American experiment isn’t done, and we still have things to learn from those who came before us.

And I do believe, in the very fiber of my goofy little artist being, that caring for the sick (and we will all, at some point, be sick) is one of them.  And I believe that the wild patchwork of solutions currently in place in many European countries offer many better options than our own system. We will not be whole as a nation until nobody’s is financially ruined for life because they were switching jobs when they were diagnosed with liver cancer, or told that their complicated pregnancy is a “pre-existing condition”, or that the only local doctor approved on their corporate insurance plan lives thirty miles away, or that their provider has discovered a convenient loophole which allows them to be dumped from coverage because they’re going to prove too expensive in the future.

Capitalism is an ingenious system.  It has brought us great prosperity.  But government exists to accomplish those tasks not motivated by profit, and to guarantee that capitalist ventures are not allowed to trample our fundamental American principles in their search for a profit.

If we need to cover all citizens by means of universalizing access to private insurance, I am all for it.  Oh, sure, the idealistic little leftie inside of me would just be thrilled to see a single-payer system run by a government as lean and efficient as private industry but motivated by service rather than profit. I would also like for public schools to be just as excellent as the fancy private school my parents sent me to.  I would also like a car that runs on lawn clippings and a colony on Mars.

But what I want most of all is to make sure that there is an affordable healthcare plan out there for everybody whose price is based on income, and that everybody is signed up for it.  There need to be plans that will instantly cover you when you’re transitioning between jobs or your employer is switching its offered coverage.  Plans that can’t turn people down for coverage or charge them $900 a month because they aren’t healthy 25 year-olds who’ve never caught a cold. Plans that can’t call your body a “pre-existing condition” or drop you when you actually become ill.  Plans that have to offer you access to a physician within ten miles of where you live. Plans that can’t refuse to pay for a test because of its results.

Which plan you sign up for should be a matter of choice.  If you think government care is a rotten idea, you shouldn’t have to use it.  You can go to a private school, too.  But what all those reform opponents who rail about not wanting their choices to be taken away seems to fundamentally fail to understand is that, by defending the current state of affairs, they are denying choice to those who cannot afford healthcare or who are being abused by what coverage they have.

The only choice that we are really attempting to remove is the choice to deny Americans their fair and essential right to pursue happiness.  Anybody who questions the basic patriotism of making an attempt is either pursuing a personal agenda, or has been misinformed.  Disagree with the proposed methods; question the interpretation of our collective principles; propose alternatives; defend some of the great things that the current private industry does offer; cite the failures of other systems and show your sources.  But don’t pretend that what we have right now is what we as a nation deserve.

When we made this country up, we decided that we all owed each other some basic opportunities.  Those of us who’ve already achieved prosperity through the marvels of the American experiment agree to chip in, in order to present that opportunity to others.  We agree to take a little cream off the top.  We agree to – yes – spread the wealth around.  Not a ton.  Just enough to establish a baseline quality of life, an American quality of life.

We don’t all have that right now.  Even those of us who feel the most secure are closer to being victims than we realize.

Anybody who tries to scare you with vague visions of jackboots or gulags or grandparents with euthanasia needles forcibly jammed into their arms is insulting the great American experiment, your personal intelligence, your needs as a human being, and your rights as an American citizen.  The only fear we should be invoking in this discussion is the fear that exists as an inherent part of today’s status quo.

My Representative, Earl Blumenauer, has provided this excellent and straight-forward information on the current House Bill.  (Yep, he’s the “death panel” guy – those death panels that actually, according to this legislative transcript I’ve got right here, would simply be a system for compensating doctors for talking to patients who ask to discuss how they want to be treated should they become terminally ill.  Right now, if my mom wants to explain to somebody what it means to request a Do-Not-Rescuscitate order, she’s often doing it off the clock.  She gets paid more for freezing off a wart than for helping somebody make one of the biggest decisions of their medical life.)

I really recommend reading it.  It clears up a lot of the bullshit.  E-mail Earl if you like; he’s a swell guy with a really dorky bow-tie, and while he is a Screamin’ Liberal he likes to hear from just about anybody. Tell him, and your own representative, what your perfect vision of healthcare in America is.

And now I’ll go back to making cartoons, because it’s my job, and not mention this shit again if I can help it.  I’ve shut off comments on this post not because I don’t believe that your response is worthwhile, or that my statements shouldn’t be exposed to criticism.  I’m doing it because, if we all really care about this issue, we’ll stop nattering about it on discussion boards and Facebook and start enacting our beliefs with our votes, our financial donations, our conversations in real life, and our communications with elected representatives.

Nobody’s heart or mind was ever won over in a Comments section.  I urge you to speak out via your own venue, to respond to me privately, or to carry those principles out in your real-world life.

And go in peace, to love and serve our country.

Family Man update!

August 25th, 2009

Page 152 preview

Page 152 of Family Man now online!

Somehow I managed to get a page out this week, despite resembling a fried egg thanks to some wicked jetlag.  Probably I’ll want to redo the whole thing in a few weeks, but I’ll resist the urge for the time being and instead devote my time to catching up on that whole sleep concept.

Next week – the second to last scene in Chapter Two!  We’ll give Luther a break from self-absorbed agonizing and check in with the lady.  I also realize that I forgot to work up a set of notes for pages 140-150, so I’ll try to put those together as well.

I’m gearing up for SPX in Bethesda at the end of September, and trying to cook up something Family Man related to have on sale there.  Requests are welcome!  August has been an utter rump for selling anything, so anything I make will be in a wee little limited special batch.  Perhaps a kooky little print celebrating the end of the chapter.

A Londres, ad Londinium, to London

August 25th, 2009

I find myself once again on terra firma (by which I mean terra Pacific Northwest coast of the United States of America), and after a few days of wrestling with free-floating nausea and the sudden desire to take naps, I am mostly over that nasty jetlag business.  Did you know that the technical term for jetlag is “Desynchronosis”?  The science-fiction beauty of the word almost makes up for feeling like the human embodiment of a stagnant pond.

But before all that, London was spectacular.  I had been there just last summer and had a wonderful, leisurely time, but it was a sort of  I wandered lonely as a cloud approach.

Whereas this year Katie and I together staged something more closely approximating The Charge of the Light Brigade. In six-ish days we managed to ruthlessly hammer down at least six months of Londoning.  We stayed with my grandmother at her temporary flat just a few minutes’ walk from Kew Gardens; so going into the central city was a commitment, and one that we lived the hell up to.

My favorite highlights include:

- running into the entire Chinese Communist Party at Marx’s grave monument; a herd of perhaps thirty middle-aged Chinesemen wearing neutral-colored golf-shirts and khakis (and one guy in a Beijing Opera t-shirt; doubtless he is the class clown).  They all clustered around the Giant Marx Head and chatted sternly, took stern photos of each other, and were generally stern until they left the graveyard, crossed the street, and immediately lit up 30+ cigarettes before sternly walking down the hill.

- observing the awestruck wonder of the crowd by the National Gallery at the sight of a bagpiper wailing away on top of the Fourth Plinth in the One & Another public art project.  I cannot describe the bravery of this man, willing to dress entirely in black and red wool in the beating sun on top of a plinth high enough to give the more prurient tourists hope of resolving the “do they wear underpants under those kilts or not” issue.

- meandering tipsily around Southwark-area pubs with Fiona and Tim, Mitchy, Janet, and Jane, laughing about the hilarious accusations leveled at the UK’s National Health Service by pin-headed American lawmakers, talking about what all of our grandfathers had done during the War, and pestering me for a print edition of Family Man (yes, I promise, geez, yikes).  It was really wonderful to meet people once again, and see some new faces too!  I feel tremendously lucky to have instant friends in such wonderful and far-flung locations.

- chattering with my favorite completely bonkers antiquarian print seller (the prints, not the seller), Tracey A. Brett, one of the many book and print dealers on Cecil Court.  We managed to get away with only eight or nine prints, and the traditional recital of Tracey’s life story (”MY FATHER DIED AND LEFT ME THIS SHOP…I HAVE A PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY FOR EVERYTHING HERE…”&c).

Never again will Katie doubt the accuracy of my impersonation of a delightfully batty shopkeeper, or my descriptions of her massive stock of wonderful illustrations at unsettlingly low prices, or the dangers of attempting to actually move within the shop (”I REFUSE TO CHANGE MY FATHER’S PRICES…DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING, THAT SHELF WILL FALL DOWN ON YOU…”).

- taking a sunset walk around Little Venice – certainly the least London-y feeling place in town, a strange little gypsy fragment of continental Europe plopped down between an upper-end residential neighborhood and a faceless business district.  A few blocks out of the Tube and we found ourselves in the rosy, sunset-lit canal full of eccentrically-painted and named river boats, little floating caravans with herb gardens bobbing along on top.  Immigrant families stretched out in canvas chairs in the little emerald-toned park, and machine-tanned ladies in impractical little dresses left their lip-gloss on crystal glasses in taverns along the water.  We found the quietest and hippest little pub in the area and nattered together about narrative and identity until the sky went cobalt and we ribboned our way Kew-wards once again.

- stopping by the V&A (my museum girlfriend); after wandering around the Cast Courts, which contain the full scale cast of the Trajan bloody Column, we split ranks so that Katie could go look at interesting things and I could take more moody black and white photography of statuary.


Then we met up again and determined that we had both fallen in love with the completely bad-ass special exhibition, Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design.  Plushies of nuclear mushroom clouds?  Tiny slippers made out of taxidermied moles?  A rowboat bathtub?  An enormous radiator shaped like a Victorian ornamental flourish?  All this and hilariously creepy atmospheric sound effects?  Yes please!

- squeezing into the French House, the Soho pub where Charles Degaulle met with the London wing of the French Resistance and where my namesake, the poet Dylan Thomas, did his best to drunkenly forget the only existing copy of Under Milk Wood on the bar.  We burrowed our way in through the end-of-work-day crowd and found ourselves in a tiny wood-paneled pub full of old music hall publicity photos.  They only sell half-pints, so we sipped from our little fairy glasses and were served with immense cheerfulness by a crew of four young hipster barkeeps, who somehow managed to all squeeze into a bar area about the size of the average tissue box.

Then we wandered over to an Italian restaurant, Piccolo Diavolo, chosen completely at random – nearly being stampeded as we entered by a cloud of mysterious foreigners who had just finished off a rowdy limoncello toast – and had the best meal of our whole trip there, trilled over by various theatrical Italian waiters.

- we also managed to make it to three excellent plays, thanks to my marvelous grandmother’s ability to scheme, connive, charm, and camp her way into the hearts of London’s ticket booth staff.  The best two were a really crisp and lovely staging of Arcadia, a Stoppard play I adored in high school, and the puppetry marvels of War Horse.


And, rather remarkable considering that I’ve seen only half a dozen plays in the UK – I recognized one of the cast members from the cast of Hay Fever at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, a production I saw entirely on a whim last year.

If you’re in London and can see yourself to some tickets, both were really stunning (and often diametrically opposed) works of stagecraft.

- and, silly though this might seem to those of you resident in the UK:  we saw a fox. I’ve never seen a wild one before; only a few fennec foxes in Seattle’s excellent zoo.  They’re largely an element of folk tales, children’s entertainment, and decorative design (and, I suppose, the furry community…) for Yanks in my area.  So to see a long, lean, rusty specimen go loping across the road in Kew for a round of mouse-hunting in the cemetery was a lovely and very English moment.

Beatrix Potter

Then we saw a taxidermied one with golden maggots coming out of its ears at the V&A making a statement about mortality.  So really, foxes all over.

When I tell you that I’m leaving out two thirds of the things we managed to squeeze in, you might understand exactly how packed a week it was.  It’s a marvel I have any legs, brains, or money left.  It was really a stunning time for the both of us; I think I probably owe my grandmother a pony now.

My next journey will be to the decidedly less romantic area of Bethesda, Maryland, for the Small Press Expo (SPX) in late September.  Then San Francisco in October for the Alternative Press Expo (APE).  I can’t really stand to think about ever being in an airplane again, but I’m sure that

Family Man update!

August 18th, 2009

Page 151 preview

Page 151 of Family Man now online!

From afar, with the help of the scheduled update function, I give to you this week’s page.  Barring major airline tragedy, I’m in London at the moment, and studiously trying to ignore the internet while I run around sticking my Yank nose into every corner of the city.

But I managed to hammer this page out before taking off.  Last week, bats!  This week, thorns!  Future graduate student writing their thesis on potential elements of symbolism in my oeuvre:  you’re welcome.

I will note that Spinoza’s name has the Portuguese word for “thorn” at its root, and a thorny rose (along with the Latin word for “Caution”) appeared in his seal.

Those are blackberries, though.  Future graduate student:  accept my apologies.

All the wonders of capitalism in the store!

Family Man update!

August 12th, 2009

Page 150 preview

Page 15o of Family Man now online!

And there we are!  Yes, this shan’t be the last we see of subjectivity reality in this comic; it shan’t be the last, at all. Scads of it, coming right up.

I also learned a lot about bats over the course of making this page.  A lot.  About.  Bats.  I also made a lot of completely unnecessary investigations into the nocturnal mammalia of Western Europe circa 1768; you’d be surprised at what wasn’t lurking in the shadows back then.

I’ll be in London this coming week for absolutely no good reason, other than my delightful grandmother providing free housing and the ladyfriend being able to come along and it being London and me still being able to take on decent-paying corporate freelance work and realizing that these elements are unlikely to continue to converge indefinitely.

The airfare was a lump to swallow, so I’ll mostly be making it through on cheap pasta at the flat and cups of hot water begged off of Caffe Nero employees, but it should be a memorable time for three ladies.  And I’ll get to ogle some of the things I had to skip out on last year due to there being, you know, a lot of London. (Sir John Soame’s Museum, I am looking at you)

Expect to hear little of me between the 14th and the 23rd!  Unless you are in London, in which case, you will probably be inundated with rumors and visions.

Now where the hell did I stick that damn Oyster card.

(everything you ever wanted in the store)

Art on the wall, page, and screen

August 10th, 2009

In the Extremely Cool department:

My work is part of the new Monsters of Webcomics exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco!  I sent in a series of images that takes this page of Family Man from dissociated layout doodles all the way to the final version, including the original, hand-drawn inked page. This happened to be the page I was working on at submission time for the show, so it’s really representative of my typical work-through, rather than the extra measures I go through for a more glamorous page.

I’ve never displayed my “process” anywhere before, so it’s a reasonably neat glimpse into my diseased mind.  The other artists in the show are all irredeemably fabulous:  Jesse Reklaw, Kate Beaton, the Foglios, Dorothy Gambrell, Nick Gurewitch, my dear friend and housemate Jenn Manley Lee, Chris Onstad, and Spike are all in the lineup.

It opened this past week and will be up through December 6th – in conjunction with, oh my childhood heart, their major exhibit on the art of the Disney film Sleeping Beauty, a piece of magnificent artistry that’s always blown Tiny Dylan away. Having work displayed within a five mile radius of that work is exciting enough to forestall several of my major bodily functions, so being just a few walls over is kind of nuts.

My thanks to Andrew Farago and the good people at CAM for inviting me in on the show!

Meanwhile I’m gearing up for a week’s visit to London, which means that in order to avoid thinking about how much I hate transatlantic flights, I’m mucking around in my brain over the difference between what I’m calling Mythology of Place versus Mythology of Character in modern narrative forms.  To that end, riddle me this, dear readers:

What’s your favorite epic locale/setting/set piece from…

A movie? (example:  Cloud City in Star Wars)

From a comic? (example:  Atheia in Bone)

From a prose novel never adapted into film? (example: the attic room of carvings in the Gormenghast novels)

From a prose novel that has been adapted into film – but NOT the film’s take on that setting? (example: the Weasley residence in the Harry Potter books)

From the film version of a prose novel?  (example:  Rivendell in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings)

From a game?  (example:  the temple in Shadow of the Colossus)


Family Man update!

August 4th, 2009

Family Man page 149 preview

Page 149 of Family Man now online!

And we’re back to the boys.

This is one of those scenes that I really wish I could post all at once, because it’s a difficult one and it will probably make somebody mad if skimmed or decontextualized.  Wait for the rest of the scene before you fire off an e-mail or get into a scrabble in the comments section, eh wot.

For those of you who’ve forgotten some of the context from the previous scene, here’s a quick link back.

I’m going to be in London from the 14th to the 22nd, and utterly incoherent with jetlag (I’m guessing) until the 24th.  I’ll see if I can’t madwoman my way through an extra page this coming week so I don’t drop an update.  Wish me luck!

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